Thursday, April 15, 2021

Community Connections: National Water Dance

Photo Credit: Montana, Georgia Littig, University of Montana Dance Student 

Dance faculty member Kristin O’Neal has been involved with National Water Dance in many capacities since it began as Florida Waterways Dance Project in 2011, and is currently their outreach coordinator. National Water Dance is an artist-driven collective of dancers, students, educators, who bring attention to environmental issues, specifically water, through dance.

The organization’s members create simultaneous performances across the United States, including Puerto Rico. This biannual event works as a movement choir, creating solidarity across the nation to bring awareness toward the water and climate crisis. Dancers learn a shared opening and closing movement phrase that connects them nationally. Each water site creates its body of movement inspired by that specific water site.

The Emory Dance Company participated in National Water Dance 2020 online via Zoom due to COVID-19. Lori Teague led the Emory contingent, teaching them both the shared movement choir phrases and creating the body of the improvisational work with the dancers. The next National Water Dance performance is Saturday, April 23, 2022, at 4 pm EDT. No matter where you are in the country, you may participate!

National Water Dance also creates site-specific performances that educate audiences, and, within the choreographic process, educate the dancers. This is accomplished through field trips and integrated curricula. Each location has its own particular water issues that becomes the focus for that area. These performances are live-streamed to reach a larger audience. Building community by uniting arts and environmental organizations on the local level, the state level, and the national level is at the heart of National Water Dance. Their hope is that dance can bypass politics and serve as a bridge to awareness and action by uniting people through the common need for clean water.

This past year, the organization created their Black Nature Conversations in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The monthly conversations are between black dance artists who create their work within the environment or whose work is inspired by nature. This month on Friday, April 16th at 3 pm EST, they will converse with Atlanta dance artists PhaeMonae and Okwae A. Miller via Instagram (@nationalwater_dance). The following month, Okwae will interview Stafford C. Berry Jr., a professor and director of the African American Dance Company at Indiana University Bloomington. They are also especially interested in highlighting black dance artists working in the environment and are in the beginning stages of creating a Youth Climate contingent to join their Ambassador Board. O’ Neal stated, “We need to hear from the Greta Thunbergs in the USA!”

Those who are seeking further information may contact Kristin O’Neal ( or visit the National Water Dance website to connect with Dale Andree, the organization director.

Photo Credit: Montana, Zenia Monteagudo, University of Montana Dance Students 
Photo Credit: Maine, photographer unknown, Kinetic Energy


Student Profile: Emily Schebler

By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant

“I knew since the beginning of the college application process that I wanted to have a major in dance,” stated third-year student Emily Schebler. A Chattanooga, Tennessee native, she has been dancing since the age of two and dance has always been an important part of her life. “I dance because my body feels at home when I move. Throughout my life, it's been my emotional outlet, as well as a way to ignore life for a while and focus on movement. It also allows me to connect to my body unlike anything else. Dance has gotten me through countless hardships and brought me my most dear memories.”

Schebler was drawn to the Emory Dance Program due to the somatic-based work. “I was doing a lot of ballet in high school and was feeling some hardcore burnout; the emphasis [at Emory] on bodies moving how they move was very healing.” One thing that has kept her at the program is the Emory Dance community. “It's really hard not to have friends when you're in the Emory Dance Program. I've made some of the most meaningful connections in the Dance Program.” The courses that have had the greatest impact on her development as a dancer are contact improvisation and her modern technique courses. “Contact improvisation gave me access to body awareness I did not have before, as well as connect with other movers on a whole new level. Modern technique classes are very unique at Emory, and every course I've taken has brought something new to my awareness.”

Schebler provides powerful advice for first-year students: “It's a lot easier said than done but try not to compare your journey to anyone else's. There are some people in this program who have been dancing forever with a wide variety of backgrounds, and there are many who just started dancing while at Emory. There are some who want to dance after college professionally, and there are some who may not want to make dance their career but will continue to have a lifelong love for movement. Your journey is your own; fulfill what you need as a mover and a person. Try not to compare your skill, experience, or aspirations with anyone else's.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Staff Favorites: Joanie Ferguson, Angela Harris, and Sally Radell

Joanie Ferguson, Dance Musician

Q: Who is your favorite dance artist and why?

Joanie: I especially enjoy works by Ohad Naharin, Pina Bausch, the dramatic flair of Martha Graham's work, the storytelling and athleticism of Alvin Ailey, the discipline of Cunningham technique, and the playfulness of Pilobolus. The most influential dance musician for me is Andy Hasenpflug at Slippery Rock University.

Q: What is your favorite song?

Joanie: Ugh. So many! I can't really choose, but I love the "old school" funky vibe of James Brown, The Meters, Chaka Khan, Average White Band, Earth Wind & Fire. I also love classical music, experimental music, Philip Glass…

Q: What has been your favorite dance moment during your career?

Joanie: All of my classes are special; there are moments of beauty, power, and genius every day in each class that are incredible to witness. I love watching dancers' discovering their "aha" moments and observing their progress. I love everything that happens at American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. I also really enjoy jamming and collaborating with other dance musicians.

Q: What is your favorite dance work and why?

Joanie: Echad Mi Yodea by Ohad Naharin. I love the repetitive chanting and drum punctuation along with the tension of the performance. Honestly, I get something new out of it every time I see it performed.

Q: What is your favorite book?

Joanie: The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

Q: What has been your favorite place you have traveled to?

Joanie: Switzerland

Q: What has been your favorite course that you have accompanied for at the Emory Dance Program?

Joanie: I love them all, but I especially love playing for Modern III and IV classes.

Q: What is your favorite place on Emory's campus?

Joanie: WPEC and Schwartz, of course! :)

Q: What has been your favorite dance moment at the Emory Dance Program?

Joanie: My most recent "favorite" is creating a live drum score for Lori Teague's Dance in Real Time series performed outside in front of the Candler Library in 2020.

Q: What is your favorite movie?

Joanie: I love the Austin Powers movie trilogy.

Q: What is your favorite food dish?

Joanie: Mexican, Sushi, Thai, Tex-Mex

Angela Harris, Instructor

Q: What is your favorite dance work and why?

Angela: Serenade is my favorite ballet because when I first saw it as a ninth-grade student, it was the first piece that I saw that embodied ballet movement in an inventive way (choreographically). I absolutely love the movement and once I learned the story behind Balanchine's choreographic process with Serenade, it inspired me to take chances as a young ballet choreographer.

Q: What is your favorite movie?

Angela: Recent movie: LaLa Land...But I have so many that I love!

Q: What has been your favorite dance moment at the Emory Dance Program?

Angela: I am not sure if I have a favorite yet because there have been so many new, wonderful experiences since I started last year. A memorable one was getting to watch Unique Wilson's solo last semester and offering feedback. I always love seeing artists create and am honored to be a part of anyone's choreographic process. It was a beautiful solo, staged on a large staircase on campus.

Q: Who is your favorite dance artist and why?

Angela: Debbie Allen - She truly represents success in so many aspects of the industry. I have idolized her since I was young and first saw her in Fame. I have followed her career as a dancer, choreographer, director, and producer. I auditioned for her in a two-day audition process at the Kennedy Center when I was a senior in high school. I wrote all of my college admissions essays on my experience during that audition process. Unfortunately, I was (literally) the last person cut from the audition for that show (She cast 15 dancers out of almost 500, and I was #16 in the room.) Although I did not get the job, I learned so much watching and working with her for two days. I was in high school at the time, and that audition has stuck with me for all of these years.

Q: What has been your favorite course that you have taught at the Emory Dance Program?

Angela: I love all of the ballet classes that I have had the pleasure to teach at Emory.

Q: What is your favorite book?

Angela: I haven't had much time to read lately, but Memoirs of a Geisha was a compelling one.

Q: What is your favorite food dish?

Angela: Sushi

Q: What has been your favorite dance moment during your career?

Angela: I danced with Urban Ballet Theater for five years, a contemporary ballet company based in NYC. I had so many great performance opportunities with the company, including a seven-city New Mexico tour and a New Year's Eve full-length ballet performance on the beach in Hollywood, Florida. One season, Urban Ballet Theater's Director, Daniel Catanach was commissioned to create a new ballet for the City of New Orleans. He brought the company to New Orleans for a summer residency, where he created the ballet on us, infusing the community and culture of New Orleans. The Kid for Elysian Fields was a modern-day rendition of the story of Billy the Kid. It was beautiful to have a ballet created on us, as well as seeing how live music, art, and community drives storytelling. It was a transformational time for me as a performer and artist.

Q: What is your favorite place on Emory's campus?

Angela: Emory's campus is so beautiful and peaceful. I just love walking around, whenever I get the chance.

Q: What is your favorite song?

Angela: I have so many...but, I really have been into H.E.R. lately!

Q: What has been your favorite place you have traveled to?

Angela: Dubai (or actually the entire UAE)

Sally Radell, Director and Professor

Q: Who is your favorite dance artist and why?

Sally: I have several....Susan Marshall - very sinuous and organic beautiful movement, very, nuanced. Also, Liz Lerman - her intergenerational work caused me to totally rethink who can dance and the diverse impact it can have.

Q: What is your favorite movie?

Sally: Forrest Gump

Q: What has been your favorite dance moment at the Emory Dance Program?

Sally: Many of our EDC concerts have enormously powerful moments of students dancing beautiful choreography and connecting deeply to the moment.

Q: What has been your favorite place you have traveled to?

Sally: England

Q: What is your favorite dance work and why?

Sally: Susan Marshall’s Contenders; it’s very athletic and takes a real-world activity and allows us to see in deeper and notice the power of the details.

Q: What is your favorite place on Emory's campus?

Sally: Lullwater Park

Q: What has been your favorite course that you have taught at the Emory Dance Program?

Sally: More than one.....I love Art as Work (formerly Contemporary Issues) because we dig deep, make powerful personal connections, and uncover the breadth of skills we all have and what we can realistically do with them to make our lives work. Also, somatic courses - I love it when I can guide students to uncover the immense power and awareness of new sensations in their bodies. Both these courses help students become empowered with all that they know and who they are.

Q: What is your favorite song?

Sally: any song by Max Richter

Q: What has been your favorite dance moment during your career?

Sally: This evolves....choreographing dance work that connects with people about critical issues on multiple levels, writing about dancers and body image, and administratively making things happen for our faculty, students, and program

Q: What is your favorite food dish?

Sally: grilled salmon

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Unique Wilson

My name is Unique Wilson, and I am a senior studying dance and movement studies and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. My hometown is Washington, DC.

During the fall semester, I confronted a personal struggle, which I am still working through, and which is the inspiration for my EDC piece—the experience of feeling like an outlier. Furthermore, I am curious about exploring the disconnect one feels when they are part of a group, yet they still feel separate. I realized that a lot of people can relate to this experience. I expect that my piece will not only communicate an aspect of my struggle but also extend beyond that. At the moment, there seems to be a (non-linear) narrative. I cannot say what will come of this narrative, but I am trusting the process.

When I started my rehearsal process, I came with set phrase material. Since then, I have tried to incorporate more improvisation into the process. I encourage my cast to play with the material I give them and embody it in their way. At times, I will give them prompts to generate more material. From there, I start thinking of structure and transition ideas that I work through with my cast. Recently, I integrated journaling prompts in my rehearsal. Due to the personal nature of my choreographic process, I felt it would be extremely worthwhile to invite my cast to self-reflect through journaling as well. Also, I like to start each rehearsal with a question for everyone to answer. I hope that these check-in moments will inspire our sense of community with each other.

I expect the audience to emotionally engage with my piece. There are moments that I believe will cause the audience to possibly empathize with the dancers if they are in a place to receive my work that way. In any case, I hope that my piece will cause the audience to feel something, perhaps some part of my struggle. For myself, I hope to say everything I intend to through my piece. I view this entire process as an opportunity to bring a part of my life that I rarely talk about to the light.

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Merryn McKeough

My name is Merryn McKeough, and I am a junior from Wilmette, Illinois double majoring in psychology and dance and movement studies.

My EDC rehearsal process began by asking my cast when they felt most competitive. Their answers, ranging from sports, Jeopardy games, and situations where they compete to care the least, are a major source of inspiration for this work. I am interested in what drives competition and how it impacts interpersonal relationships. Much of the movement vocabulary is abstracted from athletics, combining a muscular physicality with moments of vulnerability.

I deeply respect and admire my cast. It is important to me that their artistic voices are incorporated into the final piece. Throughout the process, I try to give them opportunities to create movement, alter movement I have created, and suggest any ideas that they have. I also choreograph phrases based on their answers to the “question of the day” which we begin each rehearsal. The rehearsals usually include a mixture of movement generation exercises and learning set material. One of my favorite generation activities was inspired by victory dances; after watching compilations of football players’ touchdown dances, my cast created their own celebratory movement.

Because I think the ideas that I am working with are funny, I hope the audience can watch my commentary on competition and experience the humor that I see in it. Though the work explores my personal view of competition, I would also like the audience to walk away with their own reflective questions. Why do we compete? What do we gain from competition? What do we lose? What impact does inter- and intra-group competition have on team dynamics? I’m not setting out to answer any of these questions, but rather to ask them and suggest potential approaches to investigating them.

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Leah Behm

My name is Leah Behm and I am a senior dance and anthropology double major from Potomac, MD.

I am drawing on a lot of things for inspiration for my EDC piece. I came into the process not really knowing what direction I wanted to go in, but I knew I would gain insight from my cast once we started moving together. I am inspired greatly by humor and the different ways to convey it, but more specifically, I am drawn to colors, music, and nostalgia. These themes appear throughout and though they may not seem related, they come together to create an abstract and humorous piece.

My rehearsals involve a lot of movement generation from my dancers as well as teaching set phrase material that I come up with. We also spend time manipulating the material and trying it out in different ways spatially and thematically.

On top of everything, I think the audience will perceive my piece as a conglomeration of funny moments surrounded by some great dancing. I also think the audience will feel a weird sense of nostalgia, or possibly feel connected to the piece via the spoken word and musical elements.

I have had such a great time so far by focusing on just creating something fun! I am so happy we have the opportunity to premiere these works in times like these and I can't wait for everyone to see the show, it's going to be a good one!

Emory Dance Company Choreographer Avery Hampton

My name is Avery Hampton, and I am from Savannah, Georgia. I am a senior studying neuroscience and behavioral biology and dance and movement studies.

I have always found pubescence hilariously entertaining, and I love how it is universally considered to be the most awkward time of our lives. It is a period where we grow into ourselves and begin to experience some adult-ish problems for which we often do not have the most mature solutions. I want to tap into the age that most of us spend our whole lives trying to forget and see what movement ideas spring from this headspace.

I do not have a strict rehearsal process, as I often find myself experimenting with different ways to generate movement. Each rehearsal, I like to begin with a question that usually pertains to a pubescent experience. Beyond that, I like to play with movements, abstract them, and use improvisation to generate ideas.

I think the audience will be confused yet charmed with my piece. I am hoping it inspires feelings of sweet nostalgia that they can relate to on some level. I also hope that this will be a piece that brightens their day and makes them feel connected to their younger selves.